Prisoners of the Ghostland Review

Production Company: ELEVEN ARTS Studios and XYZ Films

Streaming Service: N/A (In Theaters)

Release Date: September 17, 2021

Rating: R


Prisoners of the Ghostland delivers on exactly what it promises: an insane Nic Cage action vehicle directed by subversive Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, complete with rich stylization, staggering narrative decisions, and a hell of a lot of fun.

The plot synopsis is as follows. A notorious criminal named Hero (Nicolas Cage) is imprisoned in a post-apocalyptic Japanese/Wild West settlement named Samurai Town. The charismatic governor of the town (Bill Moseley) offers Hero a chance at freedom, if he can safely return the Governor’s daughter, Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from the dangerous wasteland known as the Ghostland. If he fails, explosives placed in Hero’s specialized bodysuit will detonate and kill him.

Sion Sono might not be a household name, but he does have a consistent reputation. Sono’s films are invariably characterized by heavy gore, sexual perversion, surreal visuals, and unfiltered references to so-called “low” culture. The director has maintained this signature exploitative style across genres, and Prisoners of the Ghostland marks his English-language feature debut as he returns to his roots in action comedy. Pairing this chaotic creative force with the equally-chaotic acting chops of Nic Cage is a fit almost too perfect to believe. Cage seems to have found his niche in gonzo horror movies, as evidenced by his recent successes with both Mandy (2018) and Color Out of Space (2020), and Prisoners of the Ghostland is definitely in the same vein. If you liked seeing a neon-lit Nic Cage scream at the camera and blow things up in those movies, then you’ll enjoy it in this movie.

I want to be clear that this film isn’t for everyone. If you’re not already onboard with the concept, you’re probably not going to warm up to it. Prisoners of the Ghostland has no interest in appealing to a wide audience or even forming a cohesive narrative; its priorities lie in style and subversion. To put it a different way: when I bought my ticket to see the movie in theaters, the ticket taker only said “enjoy the ride.” Prisoners of the Ghostland isn’t a film so much as it is a roller coaster.

Like many of Sono’s films, it can feel like more style than substance at times. The plot itself isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but the execution m